We are undoubtedly living in a great technological age in respect of what is on offer, especially to musicians. With a PC, some software and a midi keyboard, one can practically create any sound imaginable, or recreate the illusion that one is listening to real performances of other instruments that are in fact created synthetically (multi-sampled or modelled instruments played via a midi controller).
There are many companies who are using the advancements in technology to create fabulous sounding toys, the realism of which, gets better as each year passes. We are also seduced by strong product marketing which sells the notion that the latest bit of software kit will benefit our musical creativity. Will it?….. how?….. a big yes to having better sounds through which to express ourselves, to use our knowledge to create wonderful musical narrative, but no to licensed loops of pre-recorded instrument performances. How are we being creative there? It’s like inviting someone to try your home cooked grub and hope they avoid looking in the recycling bin in case they see the packaging from the “precooked ready meal” that was heated up in the microwave. Home cooking, maybe, but not yours!! These complete mini works of performances are great to use if you cannot play yourself, or if you need absolute realism, but I would argue that they are not benefiting your creative learning, or in fact bringing out much, if any, creativity in you at all!.
Consume…….. Consume some more!
In some cases, music technology has created a false ceiling; one looks up and sees flawless white plasterwork, but just above it is the original ceiling which needs some “attention” – the attention, in a musical context, means working on the performance and writing techniques as well as improving the theoretical knowledge i.e. the vocabulary. But this home improvement is not realised as the false ceiling is unfortunately the façade that prevents people from realising the truth. We as individuals hold the keys to our own creativity – this creativity is not ignited by a piece of software. Software can certainly help, but we need something else, something deeper and far more important……….Knowledge and freedom of the imagination to use it!
Many people will happily spend £300 on a new piece of software or a virtual instrument which has been marketed as the “must have” accessory to compliment their arsenal of music tools inside their DAW. Buying the software installs a belief that the new generation of sounds and “jiggery pokery” will improve their music making and creative abilities.
This is true to an extent, but it is only a short term fix, as once the initial inspiration levels have receded, they will be back to where they were before they bought the software. Then a new all singing and dancing piece of software shouts it’s way to their attention and triggers the “Oh that looks brilliant” and “Oh, that will make all the difference” kind of reaction, and guess what?……. Another purchase is necessary to revive the inspiration and energy in order to create again. This creates an addiction, and like any addiction, it needs to be fed.
Money Well Spent?
In all probability, the shiny new parameters and “highly detailed” sounds are perhaps only slightly better versions of what you already might have on your hard drive or contained within your sequencer. The reality is that high spec music tools will only get you so far. They are the condiments for your meat and veg – they add flavour, but what lies on your plate remains unchanged.
Another example – if you won the lottery and bought a Ferrari, would you instantly become a better driver? The answer is No! You would probably spend a lot more time driving fast which would subsequently require a better set of driving skills – it would force you to practice core manual skills which would, in time, make you a better driver…… however, shiny new sounds don’t generally force you to practice what you don’t know. A fast car however would demand it!
It is your knowledge and skill set that will make you a better musician, songwriter, composer and “producer” of music. A good musician will create good music regardless of whether he or she has the next “big thing” in music production software. I am still amazed at the amount of kit people go out and buy. Their laptops are stuffed with the very latest virtual instruments and plug-ins and yet they will probably use about 10% of what the plug-ins can offer. Going back to the fast car analogy, it’s a bit like owning a Ferrari only to drive it at 10mph around Tesco’s car park!
Improving or “upgrading” your own mental and physical operating system will benefit you far more in the long term. Your technique, your knowledge of music vocabulary, the speed at which you generate an idea and how you develop and sustain the idea are the areas that are vital. Read any of the leading monthly music magazines and you will see this point raised constantly. Even if you master only the basic ingredients of music vocabulary, you will get much more from those shiny “must have” toys and production tools on offer.
So, create a new addiction – one that is beneficial to feed – one that will pump your veins full of creativity – fix your ceiling………… and read my Connecting to Creativity blog……